Did you know that there are only one species of owls that have predominantly white feathers?
In this post, you’ll discover our top 10 list of facts about snowy owls, one of the most magnificent bird species in the world!
1. Snowy owls are part of the true owl family
Snowy owls (Bubo scandiacus) are sometimes referred to as the polar owl, white owl, or Arctic owl, and are one of the two types of owls that are part of the “true owl” family. The other one being the barn owl.
This family consists of 220 different types of species of owls which are divided into 25 genera. This particular type of owl was originally described by Carl Linnaeus in 1758 and referred to as the “Strix scandiaca.”
Until recently, it was believed that this type of owls were the only members of the genus “Nyctea scandiaca,” but this has recently been adjusted as their DNA shows a lot of similarities with the horned owls in the genus Bubo.
2. Where do snowy owls live?
As their alternative names suggest, this type of owl can be found in the Arctic regions of the world, more specifically the northern circumpolar region. They are native to both the Arctic regions of North America and the Arctic regions of Europe and Russia.
When it comes to breeding, they tend to breed further south. Their total breeding range is enormous and consists of 12,000,000 square kilometers (4,600,000 square miles).
One of the most interesting facts about snowy owls is that they are nomadic birds. This means they travel around and rarely breed twice in the same place. During the winter they also tend to migrate further south to escape the dark Arctic region they prefer in the summer.
3. Male snowy owls are whiter than females
While it’s pretty easy to recognize this type of bird, it’s just as easy to distinguish male birds from females. Males tend to be completely white while females are covered with stripes of dark brown.
One of the most fascinating facts about snowy owls is that it’s the only type of owl with such a predominantly white plumage. Especially the males look magnificent as they are covered with a completely white coat.
4. It’s sometimes hard to distinguish juveniles
If you want to distinguish male and female snowy owls, you just need to look at whether or not they have brown stripes on their wings. If they have these, then that individual is a female.
With juveniles, it’s impossible to make this distinction because they all have these brown markings. Only when they mature and reach adulthood do they turn completely white!
5. How big are snowy owls?
These are some of the largest owls on the planet and the largest avian predators of the High Arctic.
Male snowy owls have a length of between 52.5 and 64 centimeters (20.7 and 25.2 inches) with individuals up to a maximum length of 70.7 centimeters (27.8 inches).
The wingspan of males is between 116 and 165.6 centimeters (3 ft 10 in and 5 ft 5 in), with the average wingspan being 146.6 centimeters (4 ft 10 in).
Female snowy owls are even bigger as they can grow between 54 and 71 centimeters (21 and 28 inches) in length and even a maximum length of probably up to 76.7 centimeters (30.2 inches).
The wingspan of females is anywhere between 46 and 183 centimeters (4 ft 9 in and 6 ft 0 in), with the average being 159 centimeters (5 ft 3 in).
That’s quite a big bird, don’t you think?
6. What do snowy owls eat?
Snowy owls are carnivores and usually prey on small rodents living on the tundra of the northern Arctic regions. One of the most remarkable facts about snowy owls is that they don’t merely hunt at night like most other types of owls, but might as well hunt in the day.
Their diet consists of mammals and more specifically lemmings and voles. When these are not available they might as well turn their attention to other birds including passerines, seabirds, and ducks.
Rarely they also might indulge in eating seafood such as crustaceans and fish, but that’s only if the prey is scarce and they have no other choice. Yes, they can be versatile with their food consumption if needed!
7. They have several hunting techniques
So how do snowy owls catch their prey?
They have several hunting techniques they can use to fill their belly. These include either a dashing motion to pounce down on their prey in a “wallop” which instantly kills it. With this technique, they might as well catch prey that is buried under up to 20 centimeters (7.9 inches) of snow!
The second common technique is referred to as a “sweep” and refers to flying by their prey and grabbing it while still flying. The rodent might run as fast as it’s can, it usually has nowhere to hide if the mighty snowy owl is approaching!
8. They usually swallow their prey whole
These birds have extremely strong stomachs because they usually swallow the smaller prey they catch whole. The juices in their stomach allow for easy digestion, even if they don’t chew their food.
At least, the meat is digested. The parts of the prey that can’t be digested such as the bones and the teeth are vomited out between 18 and 24 hours after the prey was devoured.
In case they manage to catch prey that can’t be swallowed completely, they simply rip it apart first!
9. Snowy owls aren’t always monogamous
While most snowy owl couples are completely monogamous, sometimes social bigamy can occur as well. This happens when males visit 2 females at the same time and produce chicks in two nests.
At the same time, males are territorial and protect the nest by singing and display fights to scare off other males. After the incubation period of between 31 and 33 days, the male is a good father and continuously brings food to the nest.
10. How long do snowy owls live?
Snowy owls are migratory birds and have a vast range, which makes it difficult to monitor their entire population. While the original estimate of their population was around 200,000, recent studies have indicated that their population is declining rapidly and is most certainly well below 100,000, with less than 28,000 of those being breeding pairs.
While the exact reason for this decline isn’t completely understood, a lot of scientists agree that global warming is most probably the root cause, hence, they are listed as “Vulnerable” on the IUCN Red List.
On the bright side, these birds usually have a relatively long lifespan. Birds in captivity can easily live between 25 and 30 years, which is quite long for birds. In the wild, their lifespan is most probably between 10 and 15 years.